Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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50 Year Anniversaries: “Il Trovatore” with McCracken, Ella Lee, Warfield, Wolansky – San Francisco Opera, October 24, 1964

December 23rd, 2014

Note from William: This post continues my series of observances of the 50 year anniversaries of the historic performances that I attended at San Francisco Opera during the general directorship of Kurt Herbert Adler. This is the eleventh of 13 such observances of performances from the company’s 1964 Fall season.


My first live performance ever of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” took place with dramatic tenor James McCracken as Manrico. For this performance McCracken’s real life wife, Sandra Warfield, took the role of Manrico’s mother, the gypsy Azucena. (In the two previous performances Manrico’s mother was played by mezzo-soprano Regina Resnik.)

This was time I had seen McCracken and Warfield paired together. The previous season they had been together as Samson and Dalila [50 Year Anniversaries: James McCracken is the Star of “Samson et Dalila” – San Francisco Opera, September 26, 1963.]

[Below James McCracken (right) with his wife Sandra Warfield. respectively Manrico and Azucena in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”; edited image of an historical photograph.]


McCracken and Warfield had also appeared together as Radames and Amneris in Verdi’s “Aida” in 1963. (I had seen the alternate cast.) In both seasons McCracken and Warfield were scheduled for one performance together each season on in Los Angeles.

Both artists had begun at the New York Metropolitan Opera. Married in 1953, after falling in love as Samson and Dalila in a performance in Norfolk, within four years had abandoned the Met for Europe, particularly the Zurich Oper, where they became indispensable stars.

I had had reservations about Warfield’s Dalila, but found her Azucena totally convincing. McCracken proved to be one of the great mid-20th century dramatic tenors. I can attest to his  formidable Otello [50 Year Anniversaries: McCracken, de los Angeles and Gobbi in “Otello” – San Francisco Opera, October 9, 1962 and 50 Year Anniversaries: “Otello” with McCracken, Gobbi and Lorengar – San Francisco Opera, September 19, 1964] , Samson, Ghermann [50 Year Anniversaries: “Queen of Spades” with McCracken, Kirsten, Resnik – San Francisco Opera, October 5, 1963] and Don Alvaro [50 Year Anniversaries: “Forza del Destino” with Leontyne Price, James McCracken – San Francisco Opera, October 24, 1963] I had reported previously.

The Leonora was soprano Ella Lee, who had been a distinguished Empress [50 Year Anniversaries: Ella Lee, Dalis, Kuchta, Waechter, Martell in “Frau ohne Schatten” – San Francisco Opera, September 26, 1964]

[Below: Stage direcctor Lotfi Mansouri (right) works with soprano the Leonora, Ella Lee (left) in staging Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”; edited image, based on an historic photograph for the San Francisco Opera.]


Baritone Raymond Wolansky was the Count di Luna, bass-baritone Joshua Hecht the Ferrando. Maestro Francesco Molinari-Pradelli conducted.

McCracken and Warfield expressed a strong desire to be cast together in operas where each had a major role – thus their joint 1963 and 1964 appearance in “Aida”, “Samson et Dalila” and “Il Trovatore”

The 1960s were a time when such classical music labels as British Decca (released in the United States as “London Records”), RCA Victor, and EMI (released in the United States as “Angel Records”), were in strong competition for sales of complete opera albums.

A close study of the Adler years in San Francisco (and, likely, of most major international opera companies throughout the world) will find a relationship between the operas selected for a company’s repertory, the artists selected to sing them, and the advertising for opera recordings contained in the opera programs given to audiences.

[Below: a recording of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” with Birgit Nilsson (a role in which she appeared in San Francisco Opera’s 1964 season) is advertised in the “Il Trovatore” program, the latter an opera in which James McCracken appears; resized image of a commercial advertising for Decca Records of the United Kingdom.]


Whether there were understandings, explicit or implicit, between opera managements and record companies, will not be addresssed here.

However, one notes that McCracken’s few times being cast with his wife (which both were quoted in the press as something desired by each of them) are offset with larger numbers of appearances with the Amneris and Azucena of Regina Resnik.

Both McCracken and Resnik were stars of U.K. Decca Records, who advertised prominently in the opera programs.

Tags: 50 Year Anniversaries